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Play More Hoop? NBA Beckoning Orioles Pitching Prospect

When Notre Dame’s Patrick Connaughton, a Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect, returns to his hometown for Saturday’s game at Boston College, his local farewell as basketball’s great Irish Catholic hope will be short-lived, according to one veteran NBA Scout.

“He has the discipline and the mental toughness and is more than enough of an athlete to spend two hours a day shooting the basketball. Every NBA team needs another knockdown shooter. You get extra points in the scouting report for being that guy,” the veteran NBA scout told Breitbart Sports.

This weekend’s contest at Conte Forum is hardly Connaughton’s curtain call. But scuttlebutt on Connaughton’s potential as a professional basketball player comes on the heels of a $428,000 contract signed in June with the Baltimore Orioles, the franchise that owns his right-handed pitching services for the next six years.

When he graduates in May with a degree in business management, it begs the question: Which pro sport will Connaughton manage to make his business?

“People don’t how to rate me yet,” Connaughton told Breitbart Sports. “They haven’t seen a kid that’s only 6’5” that rebounds 8-plus rebounds per game and shoots it at 45 percent from the 3.”

While Connaughton agrees with big-league prophets who foresee his longevity hurling a baseball, he partly blames the sport he profits from for the asterisk haunting his name as a basketball player.

As a high school player at Saint John’s Prep, even Connaughton’s 22 points in the Massachusetts state championship game—recalling Boston Red Sox legend Jimmy Piersall’s 29-point outburst at the Boston Garden in 1947—pigeonholed him as a pitching prospect with a basketball habit.

“A lot of the amount of time that I put into baseball in the spring and in the summer kind of hindered my ability to develop, basketball-wise,” said Connaughton. “If I can put my mind to that and really work out the dribbling side of things and ball-handling side you never know what can come about.”

But the veteran NBA scout, who slotted Connaughton as a “pick in the 40s in the second round,” talked NBA for the college senior after viewing the swingman “dozens of times” in the ACC.

“The kid went to Notre Dame, so he should be smart enough to spell Kyle Korver,” quipped the NBA Scout.

Although grateful for professional comparisons and the ensuing Bo Jackson-esque debate over which professional sport best suits him, Connaughton’s decision is clear—almost.

“I’m not going to give up on basketball just yet,” said Connaughton.

Connaughton, who has attended Catholic schools since kindergarten, still pays homage to Fidelity House, the Catholic Community Center six miles from Boston that tells every kid, not just those in Connaughton’s quandary, that basketball is the right decision.

“The most important thing to me is giving back to the place that along with my parents gave me this life,” said Connaughton.

Stamped on the back of Fidelity House T-shirts, exhibited by any 10-year-old shooting on one of FiHo’s six carnival-rigged rims, reads their mission statement: “Play More Hoop.”

“I’ll always remember being in the FiHo gym until 10 p.m. when they closed, playing in the leagues and the open gyms,” said Connaughton. “It’s where I learned how to play the game. It’s the place I learned the fundamentals that set me apart from other high school players and guys at the next level.”

In the summer time, on his parents’ back porch in Arlington, Connaughton still wears the sleeveless green FiHo shirt he proudly donned at 13, when he first played for the Fighting Irish, his 8th-grade intramural championship team at FiHo.

As a member of the real Fighting Irish, the senior averages 13.3 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, and shoots an outstanding 45 percent from beyond the three-point arc for the 10th-ranked team in the country.

“After playing basketball as a kid, I remember gathering around the TV upstairs at FiHo, with a bunch of kids watching college basketball. And to think I’m now one of those guys that we used to watch on Saturday afternoons is kind of amazing,” said Connaughton.

On Friday Night before Saturday’s game with BC, after the team meal and hotel walk-thru are finished, Connaughton has one activity planned for the handful of idle hours at the hotel before lights out.

“I have a friend picking me up and the first thing I’ll do is check to see if there’s a game going on, or a practice, or something to remind me of the place where I learned how to play this game.”

But a trip to Fidelity House is hardly part of Connaughton’s swan song as a college basketball player. It’s just his reverence to the place that always viewed him as somebody from somewhere, even when he was college basketball’s nobody from nowhere.

Upon graduation, for the first time since Connaughton’s second grade coaches at FiHo ordered him to exclusively dribble with his left hand, or banned him from shooting the basketball until he valued the fruits of passing and rebounding, baseball won’t interfere with basketball.

While Connaughton will presumably participate in NBA team workouts and May’s pre-draft combine, he plans on keeping his individual workout regimen close to home.

“When the season’s over, I’m going to do a lot of my workouts at Fidelity House. You know, what better place to prepare for a chance to play professionally than where it all began?” asked Connaughton.

Fittingly, the dimly-lit shoebox gymnasium of Fidelity House and its intoxicating mantra of “Play More Hoop” serves as Patrick Connaughton’s backdrop for one last chance to—what else?—play more hoop.

Sean Flynn is a basketball enthusiast living in rural Kansas. Follow him on Twitter at @CoachSFlynn.

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